Focus/Spotlight

Lowest bidder dumped

Govt. to lose approximately Rs. 40 million

Army claims sole authority with Ministry

The lowest bidder for the supply of demining outfits to the Sri Lanka Army has been rejected under controversial circumstances, The Sunday Morning learnt. It is estimated that the Government would lose at least Rs. 40 million due to the non-awarding of the tender to the local company.

The bidding to purchase demining items for the Demining Unit of the National Mine Action Centre (NMAC) was conducted by the Office for the Resettlement and Rehabilitation and Northern Province Development (ORRNPD) of the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, Northern Province Development, Vocational Training and Skills Development, and Youth Affairs.

Claiming that the bidding process was prejudicial to a fair process, the lowest cost and the only local bidder Dinima High Performance Materials (Pvt.) Ltd. alleged several shortcomings in the bidding process

Claiming that the bidding process was prejudicial to fair process, the lowest cost and the only local bidder Dinima High Performance Materials (Pvt.) Ltd. alleged several shortcomings in the bidding process.

Further, the company had stated that their bid had been rejected by the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) on baseless arguments for which it had failed to give reasons.

According to Dinima High Performance Materials Director Ajitha Wijethunga, the company had submitted bids to the NMAC to supply the jacket team leader (PPE) (100 nos), jacket deminer (PPE) with apron (300), and visor with helmet (100) at a total price (inclusive of VAT) of Rs. 5,951,250, Rs. 22,778,625, and Rs. 1,966,500, respectively, on 4 April following the calls for bids in March.

Wijethunga told The Sunday Morning that Dinima was the sister company of Harsha International (Pvt.) Ltd., which was the only local company that supplied ballistics-related product requirements for the tri-forces during the civil war.

However, the company had then received a non-responsive bid letter stating their application was rejected based on a technical field report from the Army, asking them to appeal before 13 June 2019.

Accordingly, an appeal against the rejection had been made by the said company on 10 June, explaining the position in relation to product quality supported by a certificate issued by Australian Ballistic Laboratory, and requesting the NMAC to conduct a ballistic-resistance blast test or explosion test.

In its appeal, Dinima had also outlined the track record it had established as a local company, highlighting the positive economic contribution it makes by supplying high-quality bulletproof and fragmentation products to both local and international markets.

Then, on 4 July, Dinima had received a letter signed by Ministry Additional Secretary P. Senthilnathan, requesting the local company to participate in a field test. Even though the company was qualified through the field test, the TEC and Procurement Committee had rejected the bid on the grounds of quality, durability, and user-friendliness.

However, Dinima vehemently refused to accept the decision solely based on those grounds.

According to Wijethunga, Dinima’s bids were the lowest and beat all other foreign companies by being more than 60-70% cheaper than their bids.

Highlighting the user-friendliness of Dinima products, he claimed that the product was used to protect the deminer in case of a blast/explosion or fragmentation and “not intended to be worn as a wedding dress, which is a lot less user-friendly”.

According to him, on 6 July, the 10th Engineering Division of the Sri Lanka Army carried out tests in Mailady, Jaffna under the supervision of Sri Lanka Army (SLA) Engineers’ Brigade Commander Nihal Amarasekera, and the tests were successfully conducted by Army Major Waruna Ponnamperuma. “No penetration occurred in any of our product tests carried out in our presence,” Wijethunga stressed.

Highlighting the concerns raised by the Ministry, Wijethunga stated in his letter written to the Procurement Committee Chairman P. Senthilnathan that the NMAC had not mentioned any specifications regarding the quality of the product, and the NMAC was not in a position to highlight any specific quality criteria that Dinima had failed to meet.

Further elaborating on the issue of durability, Wijethunga had stated that in their manufacturing report, they had highlighted the fact that their fabric can sustain its quality and that its peel and sheer strength is no less than 200 N/cm2. Further, the company had offered a warranty period.

He alleged that the Government would incur millions of rupees in losses due to the rejection of the lowest-cost, local bidder.

NMAC, Ministry cannot intervene

However, when The Sunday Morning contacted NMAC Assistant Director Neil Fernando, he said that they were funding the procurement of relevant materials for the demining unit of the Sri Lanka Army, and as per a request made by them, the Ministry had called for tenders to procure the relevant material for the Army.

When the evaluation committee evaluated the bids, the samples were sent to the Army to obtain a technical report. Then, the Army had first sent a technical report without a blasting test. After appeals were made by several companies that submitted bids, Senthilnathan had informed the Army to conduct a test in front of the procurement committee members and the bidders and to give a technical report.

As per the request, the Army had conducted a test, Fernando added.

The Army had then sent a technical report, after which Dinima had secured second place while another company had secured first place. Even though the price of that company is higher than Dinima, the NMAC does not have a say as the Army are the experts in demining and technical details, he said.

All companies that participated in the tests had signed letters which stated that the tests were conducted in a transparent manner in front of all the participants, and the officials of Dinima had also signed, he said. No issue arose at that moment, Fernando stressed. The test had been conducted in a technically sound manner and therefore, the NMAC or the Ministry couldn’t intervene with regard to the selection, he added.

Brigade Commander Brigadier Nihal Amarasekara told The Sunday Morning that the Army was not involved in the procurement process and the sole authority to select the supplier was vested with the Ministry.

The Army has only provided technical assistance to the Ministry, he added.

Brig. Amarasekara also noted that the relevant quality test was conducted in a transparent manner in the presence of the suppliers and ministry officials, and after the test, the Army had sent the test results.

The company in question also got through the test, he added.